Antwerp Cricket Club were the hosts for the Optimists 1st cricket XI at the week-end, the first away game in a month.
While Antwerp were defeated comprehensively in the home fixture, they were on a good run of form and had recently beaten league leaders Royal Brussels CC and third placed Antwerp Indians. As such, the Optimisis were aware that they were not to be taken lightly.
Captain Richard Neale lost the toss and the Optimists were put in to bat on the small Antwerp ground, though with a long outfield and two of the league’s best bowlers, it was not anticipated that run scoring would be easy.
James Barker and Tony Whiteman started steadily against some hostile, accurate bowling, though James was out relatively cheaply with the score on 24. With the skipper occupied when this wicket fell it meant that Vikram Vijh was to join Tony and together they started to lift the run rate. Tony was batting well and during this partnership of 83 duly reached his 50. Vikram was well caught for 34, which brought in the captain. Unfortunately Richard did not last long and with Saransh Kulshrestha also departing cheaply there was the risk of a mid-innings collapse, with three wickets having fallen for only 25 runs.
However, Tony was still in and ticking along nicely and in Girish Venkatesh found an able partner. Good running and a lovely six over square leg for Girish meant that the score continued to climb, this partnership of 46 helping to steady the ship and set the platform for a late innings acceleration. The score had moved on to 178 by the time Girish fell and the baton was passed to debutant Reinhardt Heyns to continue with the indefatigable Tony, who duly brought up a wonderful 100. 19 runs for Reinhardt and some late order running meant that the innings eventually closed on a reasonable score of 239, though not an ungettable one on a ground where the par score is apparently 275.
After lunch, watching the neighbouring six-a-side tennis ball tournament, Atif Kamal opened the bowling for the Optimists and immediately looked a handful, the opposition batsmen
struggling to deal with his bounce and movement.
However, it was Pankaj Malav who got the first wicket, caught by James diving at square leg. Atif then picked up a well-deserved wicket courtesy of Tony’s juggling effort at first slip. Shortly after Pankaj bowled the other opener to put the Optimists firmly in control, with the run rate below the necessary rate. Tight bowling from Chris Evans continued to apply the pressure, but a small partnership was beginning to develop between the opposition’s numbers 4 and 5. This was ended thanks to a wonderful bit of athleticism from Chris Fry, running back and taking a one handed catch over his right shoulder.
The new man in immediately took on the challenge of raising the run rate and in doing so struck three consecutive sixes. The reintroduction of Atif was to prove too much for him, however, and his stumps were quickly demolished by a searing yorker that eased any nerves the fielders might have been feeling. The opposition captain was next in and in conjunction with the number 5 batsmen who was scoring steadily, set about building a partnership against the Optimists' tight bowling.
Their partnership of 47 was ended by another super bit of fielding from Chris Fry, another one-handed catch over his head off his own bowling. Two further wickets for Chris were followed by one for Richard which meant that it was left to Atif to remove the number 5 for a well-constructed 65 and end the innings on 186. A strong all-round bowling and fielding performance meant that the opposition never looked entirely in control and a winning margin of 53 runs was an apt indicator of the Optimists’ dominance.
This win was enough to send the Optimists top of the league thanks to the collection of a couple of bonus points and a loss by Royal Brussels. Ultimately, this means that next week-end’s final league match at home (10 September) against Royal Brussels will decide the league champions.
Spectators are welcome for what should be a fantastic end to a wonderful season!